Group E promises to be one of the tightest in the tournament, bringing together European duo Denmark and the Netherlands, Asian contenders Japan, the first country to book their ticket to South Africa 2010, and an African team returning to their competitive best in Cameroon.
Flawless during the qualifiers and allying sturdiness with their traditional stylish play, the Oranje lie third in the FIFA/Coca-Cola World Ranking and are suitably ambitious. However, Denmark, Cameroon and Japan are all dangerous opponents boasting plenty of major finals knowhow.
No African team boast more FIFA World Cup™ experience than the Indomitable Lions, and coach Paul Le Guen has turned the side’s fortunes around as they gear up for their sixth appearance on the global stage. Samuel Eto’o and Co have rediscovered their confidence and love nothing better than testing themselves in high-profile events. As for Morten Olsen’s Denmark, the Nordic aspirants reached at least as far as the Round of 16 on each of their three previous tilts in 1986, 1998 and 2002, while Japan will travel to South Africa on the back of a solid qualifying campaign.
The favourites
Netherlands: Eight games, eight wins was the tally achieved by Bert van Marwijk’s troops in Group 9 of the European Zone, the former Feyenoord coach having yet to drop a point in a competitive match. Difficult to break down at the back and blessed with enviable attacking talents, the Dutch have made no secret of ther intention to return home with the Trophy. “We have a mission: to be champions of the world,” assistant coach Frank de Boer told, and the team are unlikely to be haunted by their failed campaign in 2006 or the disappointment of their UEFA EURO 2008 bid. The core of the line-up has changed and so have the methods behind the scenes, but the philosophy remains familiar.
Cameroon: The Indomitable Lions have played more games and notched up more points than any other African side at a FIFA World Cup finals. Le Guen looks to have all the right tools to do that proud tradition justice, with deadly marksman Eto'o the focal point of a team also featuring the likes of Jean II Makoun, Achille Emana and Alexandre Song. Their strong finish in qualifying served as a timely reminder that Cameroon remain a powerhouse of the African continent.
The outsiders
Denmark: With the wily Olsen at the helm, Denmark have worked their way back to world football’s top table. Absent in 2006 before missing out on UEFA EURO 2008 as well, they sewed up their fourth finals participation with surprising ease, finishing first in a section that also contained Portugal and Sweden. Jon Dahl Tomasson and his colleagues have been reaping the benefits of stability, not to mention the experience gained by key players in some of Europe’s leading leagues.
Japan: Back in the Japan dugout after leading the side at France 1998, Takeshi Okada had to rebuild the side and bring through a new generation of players. Through to the main event for the fourth time, the Samurai Blue travel as winners of three of the last five editions of the AFC Asian Cup, and they proved in qualifying that they can harbour serious hopes of progression to the Round of 16. Eliminated after the group stage in 2006, Japan will look to two players tasting success in Europe to improve on that showing in South Africa: Shunsuke Nakamura and youngster Keisuke Honda.
The players to watch
Arjen Robben (NED), Dirk Kuyt (NED), Nicklas Bendtner (DEN), Jon Dahl Tomasson (DEN), Shunsuke Nakamura (JPN), Keisuke Honda (JPN), Samuel Eto'o (CMR), Jean II Makoun (CMR), Alexandre Song (CMR)
The crunch match
On 24 June, Cape Town will host the meeting between Cameroon and the Netherlands, a game which already looks set to be crucial on the road to the Round of 16.
A look back
Denmark-Netherlands, 22 June 1992: This semi-final contest at the 1992 UEFA European Championship pitted surprise late entrants Denmark against Marco van Basten and the holders in Gothenburg. The Oranje were heavy favourites to prevail but quickly found themselves struggling and needed Frank Rijkaard’s 86th-minute leveller to take the match into extra time. The scoreline remained locked at 2-2 and the victors had to be decided on penalties, with Denmark keeping their cool to bury every effort and Van Basten failing for the champions. That sent the Scandinavian side through to the showpiece match, where they famously came out on top.
Did you know?Olsen will be celebrating ten years in charge of the national side next summer. None of his 31 counterparts can claim more experience than that, and Frenchman Le Guen only took over the Cameroon job in July this year.
The stat
76 – Between them, the four teams in Group E have contested 76 FIFA World Cup finals matches. The Netherlands have the most impressive pedigree of all thanks to their 36 outings.
The question
Can Le Guen take Cameroon further than the quarter-finals, where they ultimately came unstuck in 1990? Click on 'Add your comment' and tell us what you think.Forom